Amygdala dopamine is crucially involved in the acquisition of Pavlovian associations, as measured via conditioned approach to the location of the unconditioned stimulus (US). However, learning begins before skeletomotor output, so this study assessed whether amygdala dopamine is also involved in earlier 'emotional' learning. A variant of the conditioned reinforcement (CR) procedure was validated where training was restricted to curtail the development of selective conditioned approach to the US location, and effects of amygdala dopamine manipulations before training or later CR testing assessed. Experiment 1a presented a light paired (CS+ group) or unpaired (CS- group) with a US. There were 1, 2 or 10 sessions, 4 trials per session. Then, the US was removed, and two novel levers presented. One lever (CR+) presented the light, and lever pressing was recorded. Experiment 1b also included a tone stimulus. Experiment 2 applied intra-amygdala R(+) 7-OH-DPAT (10 nmol/1.0 A mu l/side) before two training sessions (Experiment 2a) or a CR session (Experiment 2b). For Experiments 1a and 1b, the CS+ group preferred the CR+ lever across all sessions. Conditioned alcove approach during 1 or 2 training sessions or associated CR tests was low and nonspecific. In Experiment 2a, R(+) 7-OH-DPAT before training greatly diminished lever pressing during a subsequent CR test, preferentially on the CR+ lever. For Experiment 2b, R(+) 7-OH-DPAT infusions before the CR test also reduced lever pressing. Manipulations of amygdala dopamine impact the earliest stage of learning in which emotional reactions may be most prevalent
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